Last time we followed Odysseus from Troy to the land of the Lotus Eaters. We also saw what was happening in Ithaca during his absence. This time, we will continue with book nine of the Odyssey and follow Odysseus’ journey across the Mediterranean.
“The Odyssey” Books 9-12: Continuing the Wanderings of Odysseus
After managing to leave the land of the Lotus Eaters, wily Odysseus and his crew reached the land of the Cyclopes, which is estimated to be located in Sicily. The Cyclopes were giants with one enormous eye on their forehead. They were violent and lawless creatures and they were not the brightest either.
Odysseus and his man explored the land, ate some of the livestock, and found a cave that seemed occupied. They wanted to ask for help and entered the cave which was the home of Cyclops Polyphemus. The latter not only denied helping the men but ate some of them and trapped Odysseus and the rest of his crew in his dark, terrifying home. Little did he know that Odysseus was not only brave but blessed with the ability to find solutions in the most difficult situations.
Wily Odysseus offers some of his wine to Polyphemus and introduces himself – he says his name is “Kanenas” which translates to “Nobody” in Greek. Polyphemus soon falls asleep after drinking the wine and Odysseus finds the opportunity to create a sharp spear from Polyphemus large club. With the help of his men, he blinds Cyclops Polyphemous who wakes up, opens the door, and screams for help. This is when the Ithacans manage to escape and run towards their ship. The other Cyclopes visited Polyphemus asking him who hurt him. “Nobody” he screamed. The Cyclopes get confused and leave Polyphemus alone, thinking he blinded himself.
Odysseus and his men were already on their boats, staring and pointing at the giant man who was tricked by a group of tiny humans. Odysseus was ecstatic; he had fought men in Troy but managing to win against a giant creature like Polyphemus was a great achievement. And that is when he began insulting Polyphemus while sailing away. He was unaware that he had committed an hybris and he was soon going to face the wrath of Poseidon, father of Polyphemus and god of the sea. Poseidon throws an enormous rock at Odysseus that nearly hits his boat. Odysseus is now cursed to never return home – at least alive.
Odysseus and his crew manage to reach the Island of the Wind, where Aiolos, the god of the Winds, resides. Aeolia was located close to Sicily and Aiolos was very kind and hospitable towards Odysseus and his crew. The Ithacans stayed there for one month and before they sailed away, Aiolos gifted Odysseus a bag containing winds that could help them reach Ithaca faster.
With the westerlies at their back, the boats start approaching Ithaca within ten days. Odysseus stared at the starry night over Ithaca knowing he would step foot on his beautiful kingdom probably within a day. And he fall asleep peacefully on the dock. Some of his men though could not sleep that night. What was in Aiolos’ bag? Did it contain winds or treasures? What is Aiolos’ had given gold to Odysseus and the latter did not want to share the gifts with his men? These greedy men decided to open the bag, just like Pandora opened the box containing all evils. The winds were forcefully released, creating a hurricane that lead the boats back at Aeolia. Aiolos speculates that Odysseus’ journey is cursed and explains that he can’t help him any further.
The Ithacans start sailing without any wind and they soon reach Lamos, a place that was inhabited by a group of aggressive cannibals called Laestrygonians. The Laestrygonians attacked and ate many of Odysseus’ men in front of the rest of the crew who watched in horror. The Ithacans run back to their boats, however, the hungry cannibals started throwing rocks at them. The rocks destroyed all ships but one. Odysseus and the rest of the survivors managed to escape by paddling faster than ever.
The next stop was the island of the witch Circe, Aeaea. Odysseus’ men were terrified to search for the inhabitants, since they had been meeting only dangerous, inhospitable individuals. However, Odysseus sends some of his men to follow a smoke trail that was coming from the depths of the woods. The men found a home that was guarded by wolves and mountain lions. A woman was singing inside the house – she invited the men inside, welcomed them, and prepared a feast for them. Little did they know that she was the witch Circe.
The men start eating and drinking, except for sailor Eurylokhos who was hesitant towards strangers after witnessing his mates being consumed by giants not once but twice. Suddenly, the men start turning into pigs – their drinks contained a powerful potion that Circe had prepared for the men who displeased her. Eurylokhos informs Odysseus and the latter visits Circe and threatens her that he will kill her unless she takes the hex back. Circe explains that the curse will break only if Odysseus spends a night with her – a proposal that the king of Ithaca found quite fair.
Odysseus ended up spending an entire year at Circe’s island, which had turned into a paradise for him and his men (who were not only turned back into men, but their looks were also enhanced). Eventually, the Ithacans realize that it is time to go home. Odysseus asks Circe to help them return to Ithaca and she reveals to him that, in order to break the curse, he would have to visit Hades, the kingdom of the Dead, and speak with Tiresias, the well-known fortune teller and prophet. She explains what he would have to do there and how to protect himself from the blood-thirsty souls of the dead. How will Odysseus travel to Hades? Who is he going to meet there? Stay tuned because Part III will be coming soon!